NY Daily News - October 19, 2018by THOMAS TRACY
The FDNY will be celebrating a five-alarm milestone on Friday.
Fifteen women are set to proudly walk across the stage and receive their graduation certificates at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens — the highest number the department’s seen since 1982, when the FDNY opened its doors to 41 women following a groundbreaking discrimination lawsuit.
“It’s a historic moment for our department,” FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told the Daily News. “The graduates will bring us to 87 women — the highest total we’ve ever had in the department.”
Of the 15 graduates, three, including FDNY Probationary Firefighter Nicole Rizzi, have relatives who served in the department, officials said.
When Rizzi receives her certificate, her uncle, retired FDNY Battalion Chief Cecil Southern, will be cheering her on, she said.
“I always looked up to him and wanted to be a firefighter like him, even when there were less females on the job,” said Rizzi, 29, who was an FDNY EMT before joining the fire academy. “This has been an awesome experience.”
During her 18-week academy training, Rizzi was appointed a squad leader along with four other women cadets — another first for the department.
“With all the women in the academy right now, we’ve been able to prove that we can physically do the job and that we have the heart to do the job,” said Probationary Firefighter Chris Arnaud, who, like Rizzi, was an academy leader. “We’re setting an example that women want to do this job.”
Yet Arnaud still gets curious looks from friends when she says she’s a firefighter. The next word uttered is usually, “Why?” she said.
“I get that question every day,” the new smoke-eater said. “I just say its something you have to have in your heart and you’re passionate about.”
With a new crop of 291 firefighters set to graduate, the FDNY has finally completed its $47 million renovation of firehouses throughout the five boroughs to make sure that each has a women’s bathroom and locker room.
Some of the firehouses are more than a 100 years old, and were woefully behind the times, Nigro said.
“A few (of the firehouses) were originally built for horses instead of fire equipment,” Nigro said. “So some of these rooms had to be built from scratch.”
Out of Friday’s graduating class, roughly 125 of them, nearly 43%, are minorities, officials said. Out of that number, about 14% are black and 23% are Hispanic, officials said. Roughly 5% are Asian.
The agency invested in a $10 million campaign to encourage more women to apply, FDNY First Deputy Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh said. Part of that marketing plan was to get existing women firefighters to show up at events and encouraging people to give the job a shot.
“It’s good to see the results,” said Kavanaugh. “Actually having the women walk across the stage and stand shoulder to shoulder with the men, that’s the best advertisement we can get.”